The other night I watched a programme about Salvador Dali. Sort of. I mean, it was about him; his name was in the title and was what would have drawn an audience, but it was also about Jack Bond who made a film about Dali in 1965.
The programme was presented, written and directed by Jack Bond and featured him visiting Stockholm for a major Dali retrospective exhibition and talking about the film he directed in the 60s and also talking about Dali with people from the museum and various art experts. Now I do know a little bit about Dali, having been to an exhibition of his at the Tate and having read one of his autobiographies, so I knew he was eccentric to say the least, but there was plenty in this film that was new to me.Possibly the best bit was when Bond describes how he came to make his original documentary. Bear in mind that he was at that point a young filmmaker and Dali was one of the most famous people in the art world and a celebrity. He had been told that there was not much chance of him ever getting work with Dali but one day he received a phone call from somebody who said he was Dali’s director of military intelligence and would he like to come and have a chat with Dali.
What? I think that really puts the current crop of rappers to shame. They go everywhere with huge entourages but I don’t think they have directors of military intelligence on the payroll.
The whole film was a delight, with lots of clips of the original documentary. It also featured that famous sequence from Un Chien Andalou right at the point I was having something to eat. You know the bit. Eyeball. Say no more. It was fascinating to hear Dali speaking and speaking in English which was probably his third language. You might think that he was a great showman as much as a great artist, but while that might be true it certainly didn’t seem to be an act. Somebody pointed out that he created this larger than life and stranger than fiction character and then became it completely and said that this made him literally a self-made man.
What really jolted me was seeing the credits start with Dali’s dates of 1904-1989. I hadn’t really appreciated that he was still around so late. I always thought of him as a between the wars sort of person, which of course he was, but hadn’t really registered that, for example, he would still have been alive and only in his mid-70s when I went to see his stuff at the Tate.
It occurred to me that I sort of missed the news of his death and just assumed it must have been earlier. Easily done. In 1989 we didn’t have the internet and I was spending a lot of time out of the country and when I was at home burning the candle at both ends with work and a very complicated social life.
Afterwards I looked up this director of military intelligence, and he was quite interesting himself. Peter Moore was actually Dali’s personal secretary but during the war he did work in military intelligence as a corporal. Winston Churchill was so impressed with his work in psychological warfare that he gave him the honorary rank of captain. He hit the news himself in 1999 when he was accused of churning out fake Dalis on an industrial scale.
The thing that most struck me was how genuinely strange Dali was but how there was usually some theoretical basis in even his strangest works, stemming from his so-called paranoic-critical method that seemed to let him unhinge himself and imagine bizarre conjunctions. What I really mean is that it reminded me of how over-used and misunderstood the word ‘surreal’ is these days.
On just about every news program the word seems to crop up somewhere. For example, a flood victim might say how their living room had a foot of water in it with furniture floating around and it was ‘really surreal’. No it wasn’t. It was just real. If they had a foot of water clinging to the ceiling and the furniture all went bendy while the pictures on the wallpaper started moving then it would be surreal.
The film was called Discovering… Dali. If it turns up on Sky Arts again, do give it a try.